July 26 is a Day of National Significance in Barbados. It is the anniversary date of the 1937 riots that brought Barbadians onto the streets in protest against several injustices facing the masses at that time.
The severe economic hardships further entrenched by the ‘Great Depression’ and the continuing disparity between the majority and the minority, the rich and the poor, led to the boiling point which saw the 1937 riots. No longer could Barbadians be considered docile, taking whatever they got. They had to take a stand, and that they did.
Barbadians are asked to recall that time in our history, a time when just around a century after Emancipation, descendants of former slaves were still living in abject poverty and barely getting by. It was very close to slave-like conditions. We have come a far way since then but recalling such times is important for us as we seek to stand for justice, fair play, equality and what is right in our nation.
The recent coming out of scores of concerned Barbadians to a town hall meeting to discuss the closing of one of the few remaining windows to the sea on our south coast is testimony to that spirit of protest, when the need arises, left to us by our ancestors.
It is often said that if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. The windows to the sea along our precious coasts should never be shut off. On our south coast between Oistins and the esplanade, opposite the Prime Minister’s office, there are but three windows to the sea remaining. How is it that someone would even envisage closing one of those? One drives, rides or even walks along that coast and feels a sense of relief to catch a glimpse of the turquoise blue waters and white, sandy beaches. Tourists pay thousands to come here just to experience that view and people want to shut it off.
Barbadians are right to let their voices be heard in opposition to such plans. It can’t be that we will seal up, board, or concrete over those windows. Leave them open, wide open. There should be no more concrete structures placed on the beach side. I wrote about this some columns ago in relation to the Hyatt project. Look at the west coast. How often can you view the sea while on that coast?
I have seen some Barbadians commenting that Bajans don’t know what they want when they protest such plans. One minute they want development and investment and the next minute they want the windows to the sea. That response is ridiculous. Do we sell our soul and the souls of our future generations for a few pieces of gold? We can have development and investment on our terms. We have proven it in the past and we can prove it again.
Several years ago it was proposed to privatize our beaches so we can benefit economically. Thank God we had people like Anthony Gabby Carter who stood up and used his weapon of song to fight such thinking. And again, we see him in action, an older version, but with the same vigour and strength, promising to do all he can to block anyone from closing the window to the sea at Rockley.
Barbadians are not cowards, we will stand up when it is necessary to do so. It will be done with reasoned thoughts, arguments and protest if necessary. It has happened in the past, in recent years, and it will happen whenever it is necessary. The various campaigns in recent times, political and otherwise, have proven that Barbadians are ready to take up the challenge of standing for what is right, fair and just.
Barbados has a policy of no private beaches. That is ingrained in our psyche, our DNA, our culture. Likewise, we should pursue a policy of not closing off anymore windows to the sea. Let development take place on the landside. Beautify our windows to the sea with natural vegetation and environmentally friendly structures, if needed, that don’t block the view.
In my last column, I spoke to the value of the Botanical Gardens, parks and open spaces. There is evidence of a direct link between green spaces and the positive psychological impact on people who benefit from and access such places. Imagine we, in Barbados, have the natural, pristine view of the sea which in its very self is a healing, a cure and a remedy and persons want to shut that window down. Is that view only important for the tourists who visit our shores and can afford to stay in such hotels? We who live here are entitled to that view many times over. How dare someone even envisage taking that right away from us?
The windows to the beautiful sea around our lovely island are our lasting jewels. Taking that away from us and our future generations will be a tremendous loss. Its impact will be irreversible and our offspring will, no doubt, suffer the consequences.
I don’t believe that the many people who came out to the recent meeting are against development. What is clear is that such development must be within reason and palatable to the Barbadian culture and mindset. It is heartwarming that there are still amongst us people who would stand up and let their voices be heard. They use the assets at their disposal to counter any proposals that seek to destroy what our country holds dear.
As July 26 comes around and we commemorate this Day of National Significance, let our minds and hearts be tuned into what we need to do to make Barbados an even better place. Let us resolve to not be overrun by material greed for the few but let us agree to work together for a better Barbados for all. We stand on the shoulders of giants, those men and women who, in 1937, sacrificed whatever little they had to stand for justice, economic freedom and mutual respect. Let their cries and chants during those dreadful times echo in our ears and fill our hearts with the passion to do and stand for what is right.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: email@example.com)